Massadio Haidara was injured in Sunday's match with Wigan Athletic after Callum McManaman came in with a late, high, studs up tackle that caught Haidara in the knee while his foot was planted in the ground. The extent of the injury has not been reported yet, but a vague mention of "ligament damage" has been made. What I want to focus on is McManaman's tackle, or more specifically, the reaction to it by his manager. First, the tackle:
I'm not sure how one goes about defending this. He's either gone in with intent or he's one of the worst tacklers in modern football history. As it happens, intent is not important. The Football Association is transparent on this issue. They have a document freely available on their website entitled "Interpretation of the Laws of the Game - Rule 12." (Rule 12 is entitled "Fouls and Misconduct.") I'll quote just a small selection from it, but it's worth it to go and read the whole thing, which is not terribly long. Nowhere in the document is a distinction made between a deliberate and a non-deliberate action. It reads, in part:
A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play. A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play. Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.
The referee must send off the player guilty of serious foul play when the ball is next out of play.
None of this is to say that there is no subjectivity involved. Obviously, the official must decide if a tackle endangers the safety of the opponent. He must decide what "excessive force" is. However, nowhere in the law of the game is the referee given the right or the responsibility to determine intent.
So, now that we've got that cleared up, let's examine Roberto Martinez's defense of his player (All quotes via The Daily Mail):
Remember, it was Callum's full debut in the Premier League. I believe he touches the ball and then it's a bad challenge. But it's nothing malicious. He's not that sort of boy. It's the normal enthusiasm that you get on your debut. I think he wants to contact the player to apologise. He will do that. He is in a football club where those values are very important and he will definitely apologise. What you need to look at in those incidents is if there is intention, a nastiness about the tackle. We are not a nasty team. He has not a nasty bone and is not bad-intentioned. The referee was in a perfect position, he is looking at the incident, where the ball is and where the ball is hitting. Callum is just a young striker - unfortunately it was a poor tackle and enthusiasm probably threw him into that position. He needs to learn as a striker not to go into those situations.
As we've noted, bad intentions do not play into the disciplinary side of this conversation. Neither should the player's age or position on the field. Are referees (and by extension, the FA) supposed to grade these incidents on a curve? Every player has the responsibility to follow the laws of the game. Every player has the responsibility to play the game in a safe manner. Every player has the right to expect every other player to follow these guidelines. It's unacceptable.
Now, will McManaman receive a suspension? That depends, strangely enough, on referee Mark Halsey. Newcastle fans may remember that Nigel De Jong did not receive a suspension for the dangerous scissor tackle that broke Hatem Ben Arfa's leg over two years ago. The reason was that match official Martin Atkinson did not discipline the tackle when it happened, then wrote in his match report that he had a clear view of the incident. The FA has a (misguided, in my opinion) policy to "stand behind" their referees when they make these decisions, so their hands were tied and they could not discipline De Jong. The question in this case seems to be whether or not Halsey saw the incident. Alan Pardew claims that Halsey told him he did not, while Martinez has taken an opposite view. Various pictures are floating around the internet that suggest that Halsey's view was obstructed, while the linesman's was not. We can't really know, and we certainly don't know what the official wrote in his report. If he claims that he did not see the tackle, McManaman will be subject to punishment, and when he goes before the FA, arguments about intent will be irrelevant.
It's an awful challenge. The pictures speak for themselves.
- Alan Pardew